Several reports of chimpanzees attacking humans in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have been surfacing in recent months and years, New Scientist reports.The attacks have taken the life of at least one child, though local media reports state that as many of 10 people have been killed and 17 others severely injured by chimp attacks.
Researchers think that human populations in the area are expanding into the chimps’ range, increasing the number of human-chimpanzee encounters and stressing the animals, the New Scientist report suggests.
Klaus Zuberbuhler, a psychologist at the University of St Andrews in Fife, UK, and scientific director of the Budongo Conservation Field Station in Uganda, says restricting the chimps’ habitat can certainly affect their behaviour, though it is debatable whether the chimps’ aggression towards humans is a form of revenge. “It may be a more general sign of mistrust and antagonism, which is regularly seen in chimp sanctuaries and other captive facilities,” he says.
Reports of the scale and number of attacks are probably exaggerated, says Richard Wrangham of Harvard University, but he concedes that there has been an increase in tension between humans and chimps in that corner of the DRC – although only in areas where chimp habitat has been lost.
“Human-wildlife conflict is an extremely serious issue in Virunga, as it is across Africa and elsewhere,” says Emmanuel de Merode, chief warden at Virunga [National Park].
They note that local officials are trying to educate the humans in the area about how to better handle interactions with local chimps, but chimps aren’t the only violent animals in the area. Human helpers can’t reach many places because of armed conflict between the DRC government and M23 rebels occurring there.
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